Delays possible in Syria chemicals weapons mission
OSLO, Norway (AP) -- The head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning watchdog leading the mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons says there may be delays in transporting the chemicals out of the country.
The most toxic chemicals are supposed to be taken out of Syria by Dec. 31, but that deadline "will be quite difficult to meet," Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told reporters in Oslo on Monday.
"This is very challenging, especially in view of the security situation, which is worsening in this country," he said.
He also called the goal to get less-toxic chemicals out of Syria by Feb. 5 "quite an ambitious timeline" and added "there might be a few days' delay."
Nevertheless, Uzumcu said he's hopeful all the Syrian chemicals will be destroyed by mid-2014 as planned.
He was in the Norwegian capital to collect the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the OPCW on Tuesday.
The plan is to ship the chemicals from the port of Latakia, but getting them there in the middle of a civil war is a challenge.
Syria's deputy foreign minister last week said his country needs armored vehicles and other resources to move chemicals out of the country.
"It's correct that all material and equipment may not be available for the transportation but we are looking ... for alternatives," Uzumcu said. "That's why there might be slight delays in fact in transportation of those weapons outside of the country."
Norway and Denmark have offered merchant ships to help transport chemicals, and the United States will provide a ship on which the most toxic chemicals can be destroyed at sea. The port where the chemicals will be transferred to the U.S. ships has not yet been determined, Uzumcu said.
"Contacts are underway and I'm confident we shall know it soon," he added.
Pro-government TV stations reported Sunday that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad had secured a key highway that the OPCW has said could be used to take the chemicals to Latakia.
Packaging materials that will be used when chemicals are transported have already started to arrive in Lebanon and the mission has organized a course to train Syrian personnel in preparing the chemicals to be moved out of the country by sea.
Some three dozen private companies also have expressed an interest in destroying less-toxic chemicals, which make up the bulk of the 1,300 metric tons of weapons and chemicals declared by Damascus.
Uzumcu said his organization, which was formed to enforce a 1997 treaty banning chemical weapons, would use the Nobel Peace Prize money of $1.2 million to set up its own annual award.
"Of course we are not going to compete with the Nobel Peace Prize. It will be a modest prize, just to recognize those who contribute to our goals," he said.
Associated Press writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.